At Irvington’s most recent Board of Trustees meeting the forty-five seat room was filled to capacity, and like a good Off-Broadway show there was standing room only which spilled outside.
Mayor Malloy listening to residents
The draw for the evening was Irvington’s 2007-08 Adopted Budget which reflected a 6.98% increase. Put into perspective, it was the lowest increase in Village taxes since 2001. Even so, there was anticipation that public comment could become heated. Heated around issues of the Citizen’s Budget Committee’s (CBC) report citing a need to address all departmental spending (with the Police Department scrutinized over salaries, staffing and consolidation of services).
Much to her credit and prior to the start of the meeting Mayor Erin Malloy let all in attendance know that their comments were welcomed if presented in a courteous and respectful manner. Residents and employees took note and heeded the Board’s request for decorum.
Irvington’s Village taxes, coupled with Westchester County’s meteoric increases, have been a priority for Erin Malloy since she was a Village Trustee. Campaign platforms for both parties prior to the March election centered on fiscal responsibility. On June 4, a dialogue between residents seeking tax relief, and a Village Board wanting to make good on campaign promises, took shape.
In talking to Village Administrator Larry Schopfer who previously held the Clerk/Treasurer position, he said that residents pay approximately 25-30% of their entire tax bill directly to Irvington. Over 50% is spent on school taxes with the remainder being levied by the town and county. Regardless of the distribution, several residents stood before the Board on June 4 and requested parity and tax relief.
The first gentleman identified himself as having lived in Irvington since 1999. At that time his taxes totaled $17,000. He is currently paying $41,000. He admitted to not knowing anything about the budget process but that didn’t stop him from asking the Board to roll back the budget by 10%. Another resident urged the Board to adopt the recommendations of the CBC report and to find creative ways to conserve spending. He reported that his taxes were $23,000 when he first moved to Irvington and they have ballooned to $51,000. A woman stood before the microphone and plainly stated that her taxes were also $50,000.
In response to residents looking for tax relief Mayor Malloy noted that the CBC had been a "brainchild" of hers. Regarding the issues of taxation she said, "We take this very seriously." She went on to say that the Board would pursue an analysis of the report over the summer months. Trustee John Malone added, "Everyone understands the urgency of the Budget issues."
With regard to property taxes in Westchester County and New York State in general, a disparity exists in how homes are assessed, according to one administrative official we interviewed. Whereas many states have laws on how often revaluation is to be conducted so that parity exists for property owners with similar valued homes, no such law exists within the Empire State. Therefore many assessments on the tax rolls (for Irvington properties) are dated from the mid-1950’s in the Town of Greenburgh. We were given an example to show the disparity in assessments. A homeowner who has occupied the same house for many years and has had few improvements will pay less in property taxes than a new home recently assessed, even though the two homes are of equal value. Another side to the issue is that people who have chosen to remain in the same home for many years may have done so because it’s what they could afford. This is particularly true for people on a fixed income. Regardless, the lack of equality in taxation is one of the issues that Mayor Malloy and the Board will be studying now and over the summer.
The Board will also be working on an analysis of the CBC report as it relates to the Police Department and the possibility of consolidating some services with Dobbs Ferry’s PD. On June 8, Police Chief Lou Grieco retired and Lieutenant Mike Cerone was made the Acting Chief of Police. The Village Board has asked him for recommendations on staffing levels within his Department. One of the recommendations of the CBC report regarding the PD called for the Lieutenant’s position to be deleted due its redundancy with the Chief’s position. The CBC report also called for a freeze on hiring within the Department. These recommendations and issues will be addressed by the Mayor and the Board in an ongoing dialogue between departmental heads and also with the very people who elected them. To everyone’s credit Irvington has begun to take a hard look at taxes, spending and the consolidation of services.